Just/us, the downtown Saint Paul restaurant known for its punk, no-holds-barred approach to fine dining will re-open in the former Golden’s Deli location. The restaurant closed on April 20th and soon thereafter began to reveal hints on social media at a possible new location in August.
A passion project started by five close friends just/us strove to turn fine dining on its head and do away with the pretensions expected from a spot laden with tasting menus and phrases like “prix fixe.” The restaurant, which opened in March of 2018, caught attention for it’s no-tipping philosophy and sparse staffing; the chef would oftentimes bring out food instead of a server.
The initial Wabasha and West 7th location attracted a cult following throughout its short tenure. However, after being told by the landlord that rent was expected to skyrocket following upcoming renovations, the crew felt that operations would no longer be sustainable.
Once new building management came in, the plan was to restore the building and turn it into luxury lofts. “The old landlords not being completely upfront and honest with us,” said Docken, explaining how he and his crew had no prior knowledge of this development. The news blindsided them.
“They were going to kick us out and everybody who lived there by May 5th,” he said, emphasizing that “most of the tenants were recovering people, families, previously homeless or disabled.”
Of course, everything ended pretty well for just/us. The new location is larger, adjacent to the St. Paul Farmers Market and will allow for a bigger operation. But what of the former tenants? Docken hopes that the relocation of his restaurant can perhaps highlight – and, given their platform, decry – one of the ugliest problems a modern city faces.
“We are in a position where we can be a voice for them. Oftentimes gentrification happens but there’s not an outlet for it. There’s not a lot of ways that people can say, ‘Hey, look over here, this is happening.’”
On their website, just/us posted an open letter in which they expressed their dismay regarding the tenant displacement:
These are our neighbors, we’ve grown to love & respect these people. Our hearts break for them during this time. Many of them will end up without housing or in shelters… If they go, we go too. Gentrification rears its ugly head again in Downtown St. Paul. We believe in developing our neighborhoods & communities, we do not believe in the continued displacement of disadvantaged members of our community in the name of inflating riches.
In conversation with Docken, he spoke of housing advocate groups assisting those who were displaced, confirming that these individuals were getting help.
As of right now, it’s all about financially gearing up for the next location.
”Opening a restaurant is expensive. Opening a restaurant within 2 years of one closing is even more expensive,” said Docken. To cover debts and a new security deposit, the restaurant started a GoFundMe. In the meantime, Docken and friends will spend the next few months cleaning the new space, developing a new menu, hiring, and training.
Even if just/us failed, Docken had plans. “I would’ve found a job somewhere, paid off my debts for the next 10 years, and then started something new again,” he said. But in this reality, just/us made a comeback. “We were lucky.”